Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Apple Hill - A Fall Must-Do

To me, fall used to mean going back to school and facing the drudgery of homework and – horror of horrors – waking up early for class. Since graduating from college a few years ago, fall has come to mean something else, and the idea of cooler days, the approach of Halloween and the changing colors has turned it into one of my favorite times of the year.

Getting outside during this time and taking part in some of the festivals and activities that accompany the harvest can really be a good way to spend time with friends and family. Fortunately, I don’t have to travel very far to reach one of the best fall destinations I’ve ever seen – Apple Hill in the California foothills.

Originally composed of 16 Apple ranches, Apple Hill has come from being just a working farmland to being a tourist destination. My best advice is to avoid, if at all possible, going there on a weekend – or brave the crowds.

I went up the hill this weekend with my family, and we visited several of the apple ranches, eating pie, drinking cider, eating caramel apples, petting a few animals, eating fudge and watching kids fish – followed by eating apple donuts.

Yeah, if you’re going to Apple Hill, leave the diet at home.

All of the major apple ranches are easily accessible by a network of roads off of Highway 50 just east of Placerville, so though you can spend hours walking around the properties or through orchards, you don’t have to walk off any calories if you don’t want to. All the ranches are easily reached with the help of the maps offered at many of the locations and published in “The Cider Press.”

Our first stop was Rainbow Orchards. It was crowded, but not as badly as some others. Craft tents were set up, and handmade scarecrows dotted the area. A band played music on stage, and the air was festive. We looked around at the various stalls and a trailer loaded with gourds, then went into the barn to join the line of people waiting for food.

Deciding not to wait in line for the moment, as we’d just eaten lunch, we headed on to Plubell’s Family Orchard. Like Rainbow, it is one of the larger places, and there was quite a bit of activity.

I walked past a wagon that had just emerged from the pumpkin patch, where the family had gathered its pumpkins and the father was pulling them – and a cute chubby baby bedecked with sweater and beanie – to the spot to pay.

The petting zoo featured a bevy of goats who were all too eager to lap up the food visitors could buy. The baby goats, being the cutest, got a disproportionate amount of food, causing the bigger ones to climb the fence high enough to stick their heads over and, in one case, eat the food and polish off the Dixie cup in which it was sold.

Walking past decades-old tractors with very simple mechanical accessories, I spotted a clown giving a free show. I headed instead to the booth of free apple cider and made sure I got the cup as full as I could.

After that, driving down the road toward High Hill Ranch, which would be our final destination, our attention was grabbed by a 1920s-era car with a sign touting apple pies. Unable to resist old cars and apple pie, we pulled over and had a treat that was not unlike the apple strudel we had outside Salzburg.

I scored a free cup of hot apple cider, and then we were off to High Hill.

High Hill Ranch, to me, simply is Apple Hill. Each year, after cutting Christmas Trees with my extended family, we stop and finish off the day with apple donuts and hot chocolate. As a kid, I ran back and forth with my cousins in a small valley that sits next to the small lake in which I once caught a fish.

The place was as crowded as I’ve ever seen it, but the line for the free cider samples was relatively short, and we all dispersed to stand in the various lines to mitigate the waiting.

I headed past the pony rides and the wolf rescue display to the fudge shop, which is technically not part of High Hill, but a place I simply must stop at, since they always have what I need for my white chocolate fix.

Had there been less people, we would have sat on one of the outdoor tables and eaten our donuts, or, if we wanted to be cruel, eaten them inside where all the people waiting in line could see us, but we headed home instead.

It seems funny to me that we always come home from apple hill sans apples, lest they be covered in caramel. Even though I rarely eat apples by themselves for some reason, I do truly enjoy visiting Apple Hill and just being there. Once the leaves turn color, the colors on the hillsides explode, and it really becomes the idyllic place to spend time with family and friends.

1 comment:

Jessica said...

Aww I want to go to Apple Hill! I've only been there once and from what I'm reading here, I gather that my experience was unsatisfactory. I have got to go one of these days/years...